Brumbies-Rebels merger talk resurfaces amid Super Rugby shake-up

Brumbies forwards coach Laurie Fisher says the two-time Super Rugby champions have no interest in merging with Melbourne Rebels, as mixed reports circulate about the long-term security of Australia's four professional franchises.

Rugby Australia has since moved to quell speculation of a potential merger between the Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels, as the chief executives of the four Australian franchises prepare to speak with their New Zealand counterparts Friday over the future of provincial rugby in this part of the world.

The hope in Australia has long been that New Zealand would agree to a trans-Tasman competition that would certainly involve Australia's four franchises and even the Western Force, who are bank-rolled by billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest.

With the Force able to seemingly support themselves, and Rugby Australia in the midst of a crippling financial hole, talk of the Brumbies and Rebels creating what would be an unholy alliance have again started to surface.

But Fisher was having none of it, the veteran forwards coach saying the franchise's achievements spoke for themselves. The Brumbies have won two Super Rugby titles and reached a further four finals; they were also leading the Australian conference when the competition was suspended earlier this year.

"I wasn't aware it was being raised again," Fisher said when asked about the rumoured proposal on Wednesday. "I think we've shown since 1996 the capacity to be very successful standalone rugby team and rugby area. I don't see that changing."

Fisher's comments come after Rebels coach Dave Wessels expressed similar sentiments, albeit without the Brumbies' clear record of success. Wessels said the Rebels had "the worst house on the best street" in discussing the future of Australia's teams during last week's Rugby Rescue panel with The Australian.

"We're doing a lot of things wrong and we've been the makers of our own destiny in some ways, but at the end of the day rugby is still significantly bigger than AFL and NRL combined," Wessels said.

"The Rugby World Cup is still the third biggest sporting event on the planet...the challenge that we have is, and Victoria is a good example of that, is that we have got got 27 professional sports teams here.

"So I think our challenge is how do we make rugby work in an Australian contest...we have to figure out how we make an Australian product that works not only for the viewers but for the players and allows us to create a winning Wallabies team."

Just how many teams Australia might have as part of any potential trans-Tasman competition could depend on how many New Zealand might agree to, and in what format the tournament could run, with suggestions that teams from the Pacific Islands or Japan could also be involved.

After suffering a poor loss to the Sunwolves to start Super Rugby, the Rebels had improved to 3-3 for the season having notched a drought-breaking win over the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Both teams will have the Super Rugby AU competition to impress their New Zealand counterparts and Rugby Australia administrators, who will be analyzing the costs of any new tournament framework that is put in front of them as they also continue to work on securing a revenue-driving broadcast deal.

Debate as to whether the Wallabies were better served by having three, four or five Super Rugby franchises has long raged, though comparisons are often difficult to make given how the international player market has changed considerably over the past 10 years in particular.

As for the looming Super Rugby AU competition, which kicks off when the Reds host the Waratahs in a fortnight's time, Brumbies assistant Fisher expects incoming Wallabies coach Dave Rennie to like what he sees in the flesh for the first time.

"I think there were good signs in the game over the first six or seven rounds (of Super Rugby)," the 62-year-old told reporters from Canberra. "The Waratahs had some problems but they were playing some nice attack. We were going well, the Reds had some outstanding attacking and offloading rugby ... and the Rebels were starting to hit their straps.

"I'd be really encouraged about where our performances are going to go over the next couple of years. And if performances go well then support will grow again."

Key to future improvement, the former Gloucester Rugby coach said, was strong guidance from New Zealander Rennie and his assistants Scott Wisemantel and Matt Taylor.

"I think we'll get really good leadership from the national coaches and I think there'll be a real sense of unity and common purpose," he added.

"The national team has to come first. That doesn't mean that at the level underneath we all play the same game ...

"But if we're all on the same page about what's working ... about what are the non-negotiables for Australian players in terms of conditioning, skill-sets, game understanding, then we're half a chance of delivering what we want to."